Figure 1. Image of The Virtual UCF Arboretum, a computer generated virtual nature model expressed as an accurate data visualization and bioacoustics habitat ideal for AR, VR, and MR educational activities. Using sparse GIS information fusion to combine data, drone images, and botanically correct 3D plant models, it represents 10 natural Central Florida communities found in the 247 acres modeled.
Dr. Maria C. R. Harrington is an American information scientist and artist. Research focus is on Virtual Nature, by applying information science theory in novel ways to understand foundational questions at the boundaries of perception, aesthetics, emotions, communication and learning on topics related to the natural world, and by using augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and mixed reality (MR). Such tools are used to investigate human interaction of real-virtual environments and impacts on perception, learning, health, and creativity. Such systems influence scientific, human, social, and cultural transformations. She is an Assistant Professor of Digital Media in the UCF Nicholson School of Communication and Media at the University of Central Florida. She also has a second joint appointment in the UCF Learning Sciences Cluster, is a core graduate UCF faculty member in the Texts & Technology Ph.D. program, and is a Research Associate with the Carnegie Museum of Natural History with the Powdermill Nature Reserve. She is director of The Harrington Lab, recipient of the Epic Mega Grant Award 2020, and has consulted on projects using AR and VR with the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.
Her research area is broadly related to the development of digital media artifacts from human-computer interaction, user centered design, and data visualization perspectives. There are two major creative research projects currently under investigation. The first project is AR Perpetual Garden App used in museums, and the second project is the investigation of VR with The Virtual UCF Arboretum, both are used to study informal learning, emotional, and aesthetic impacts of immersive, multimodal, and interactive digital media as knowledge artifacts. Both projects have resulted in grants, awards, publications, and presentations. The AR apps are available on iTunes, Google Play stores, and digital media on PBS LearningMedia. Papers have appeared in peer-reviewed international journals and conference proceedings, including: Curator: The Museum Journal, Virtual Reality, IEEE Transactions on Learning Technologies, and Museum and the Web, NASA Human Research Program, HASTAC, Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, ACM-SIGCHI IDC, ACM SIGGRAPH, and IEEE Virtual Reality and 3D User Interfaces.
She has been PI or Co-PI on research in Virtual Nature and its applications. Awarded an Epic Mega Grant for $25,000 in early 2020, an Artist in Residence Fellowship and invited to become a Research Associate with the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Powdermill Nature Reserve, she is proving that her research has external value and impact leading large interdisciplinary teams of artists, scientists, and technologists. She is investigating informal learning with digital media using rigorous empirical statistical methods. Internally at UCF, she has proven to be an excellent collaborator and leader of interdisciplinary teams. Awarded a UCF grant from the UCF/Office of Research & Commercialization, VPR Advancement of Early Career Researchers (AECR), she is engaged in innovative and creative research with the Department of Psychology on immersive multimodal applications using The Virtual UCF Arboretum and a treadmill. She has been recognized as a national and international scholar with invitations to conduct Virtual Nature Workshops at Salzburg University of Applied Sciences, Austria, and at the University of Pittsburgh. In the past, she was invited to review grants for NSF Computer & Information Science & Engineering (CISE), Information & Intelligent Systems Division (CII), Cyber-Human Systems (CHS), for the ARVR Panel.
The Harrington Lab at UCF investigates Virtual Nature, using AR and VR as a technical artifact, to better understand perceptual phenomenon as it relates to human-computing-environment interactions that cause emotional, learning, and aesthetic outcomes. The lab is highly collaborative with several active multidisciplinary partnerships. Efforts focus on extending prior work in the development of Simulated Ecological Environments for Education (SEEE) used for research and art. The lab is under the direction of Dr. Harrington at the University of Central Florida.
Artwork based on the visualizations have been professionally shown, and sold to private collectors. Such immersive artistic experiences offer new forms of art in culture, and new perspectives of reality to the viewer. Art, especially as an expression of a society’s culture of that time, technology, and economy, is a total accumulation of knowledge, values, and beliefs of that society, and is partially expressed today in our computer digital media artifacts, such as virtual nature models in AR and VR. These virtual nature works hint at the powerful connection between art, landscapes, and the human experience as a relationship to the land.
Professional experience includes project/product management, risk management, real time financial decision support systems, strategic information systems, C3I system design, economic and marketing forecasting, real time visualization systems, human-computer interaction, and human factors analysis and design activities for global corporations and institutions such as: PNC Financial Services Group, The Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, Fidelity Investments, University of Toronto, Alias/Wavefront-Autodesk, DataViews–GE Fanuc, and Federated Investors.